If you missed Part One, you're going to want to catch up a bit first. You can access it here.
At some point during the Spring of 2019 I began to realize I didn't actually know who I was anymore. I had spent so many years playing different roles, just doing the next thing that had to get done, that I couldn't even articulate what my own desires, needs, likes, or dislikes were anymore. I was, for lack of a better description, numb. I didn't feel much of anything. I was going through the motions of life, but more as an observer of my life than a participant. Each day was its own to-do list, and I was simply checking off the boxes only to go to bed, wake up, and do it again.
By July, some major tensions had surfaced in my life. And, in my emotionally immature state, I dealt with those tensions very poorly. Anytime multiple humans are involved, learning how to understand your emotions and grow in emotional maturity is going to be a painful learning curve for everyone involved. Yet, nothing is ever wasted. In her book, The Emotionally Healthy Woman, Geri Scazzero (a spiritual formation leader) explains that "...emotions can be teachers sent from God" and "the family of feelings around sadness" such as loneliness, hurt, discouragement, depression, and gloominess, are the "greatest teachers of all." I was about to get schooled by sadness.
The year between July 2019 and July 2020 was one of the saddest years of my life. Not because of any one traumatic event or loss, but because it was so filled with small losses and disappointments that there seemed to be very little room for much else. Certainly there were some wonderful moments. I was never without joyful things happening in life. However, there was this underlying, nagging sadness that clung to me despite my best attempts to break free of it. The real problem was I didn't understand that I wasn't going to get rid of it. I wasn't supposed to.
My relationship with sadness was significantly distorted. I relate deeply to what Scazzero writes on the subject. She says, "My relationship with sadness was as inhumane and unbiblical as my relationship with anger. When feelings of sadness arose, I quickly covered over them and moved on. They were inhumane because I denied the pain that comes with living in a fallen world...The problem was that I had a lot to be sad about."
She goes on to talk about an unspoken rule she grew up with that "to be sad is to be weak" and "to be weak is bad." Like Geri, I grew up (even into my adult years) believing that being sad, especially for long periods of time, was a sign of spiritual weakness. That I wasn't "choosing joy" or "trusting God" enough if I was in such a sad state. No matter how much I tried to pray it away, the heaviness continued. In September 2019 I broke. Yet another disappointing loss came my way, and something in me cracked. It was as if I had finally given myself permission to feel, but then when I did, what I felt terrified me. It was grief. I was finally starting to let myself grieve the losses I had experienced. Not just recent losses, but all the stored up losses I had tucked away in my soul from the previous 30+ years.
I hadn't realized until that point that loss was not an invader in my "normal" life, but rather a part of life. As Scazzero writes in her book, I was discovering that:
"People we love die. Relationships are severed. Doors close. Dreams are dashed. We relocate. We say good-bye to a church or community. Abuse robs us of our innocence. We accomplish a goal and have to say farewell to a process that got us there. We age and lose our health. Our children grow up. Over the span of our lives, we will leave everything behind."
This is real life. It is sad. And I was realizing that I didn't know how to talk about sadness or disappointments. Instead of digging in, I numbed out. I realized that from my early adult years up until that point I had used various numbing techniques. Alcohol, food, work, social media scrolling, to name a few. But then, something shifted in me. I truly believe it was the soul care work I was doing. It was like the soul care pulled the plug on a bathtub and all the dirty bathwater was finally free to come out. I suddenly felt I had been given permission to grieve. I began to grieve childhood wounds and unmet expectations. I grieved severed relationships. I grieved lost opportunities. I grieved lost security. I grieved deaths and challenging parenting situations, and health limitations.
You'd think with all that grieving I would have felt worse. But, in fact, it was quite the opposite. I was free. I didn't have to fear losses or disappointments or sadness anymore. I could allow myself to experience them fully as they came. I didn't have to label sadness as bad. I accepted it, embraced it as a gift even. It made me a better human. More compassionate, empathetic, understanding. Geri Scazzero says that "If you are not honest about your true feelings, you will be stunted in your spiritual growth with God and limited in your relationships." But, when we accept all of our emotions, "we protect ourselves from needless inner conflict between what we are truly feeling and the voices telling us that we shouldn't be feeling those things." She adds, "When we accept all of our emotions, it is the beginning of making peace with ourselves."
And it truly was just the beginning for me!
In part three I'll share more about what happened next.